Cultural Evolution in Digitial Socities 

The project studies the emergence and consequences of new technologier for information dispersal and processing in a new way, based on evolutionary thinking. How do digital information technologies transform cultural evolution, and what are the likely effects on individuals and society?



Planned completion


Collaboration partners

Project manager at MDU

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There is a legitimate concern regarding the consequences of digital information technologies (DITs). How will, for example, relations between people be affected in terms of cooperation, exploitation, equality and democracy, and how will they influence the quality of information? In the long run, there is a possibility that machines become more autonomous than today, with consequences that are difficult to anticipate.

This project adopts the novel approach of applying evolutionary analyses to the study of the consequences of DITs for individuals and society. The central hypothesis is that the emergence of DITs, such as computer programs, the internet, social media, databases and artificial intelligence, can be seen as a major transition in evolution, where the rules for how information is stored, spread and manipulated are radically changed. In parallel, new types of agents emerge, and the patterns for cooperation, competition and exploitation change. Such major transitions in evolution have occurred several times in the past, and even in the human past, through the emergence of language and subsequently writing.

Within the growing research field of cultural evolution, researchers study how information spreads and how societies are formed using the today's technologies. This project will build further on mathematical models and insights from the field to study how conditions change with new information pathways and active technology that processes information by itself. It investigate the impact of DITs both directly through algorithms and indirectly through the actions of human agents. The main purpose of the project is to chart potential consequences and how people and society are affected, with a focus on:

  • Knowledge and disinformation
  • Polarisation and segregation
  • Social influence and trust.

Two kinds of evolutionary analyses will be employed. The first involves developing mathematical models of social networks and cultural transmission in the presence of DITs and running agent-based simulations. This work will adapt evolutionary theory to study the impact of DITs and related technology on society. The second analysis will make comparisons with major evolutionary transitions that have previously occurred, both in biological and cultural evolution. These generally give rise to substantial changes in both information processing and relationships between agents
? changes which are also to be expected from DITs. These analyses will be applied to answer the guiding research question: How do digital information technologies transform cultural evolution, and what are the likely effects on individuals and society?

Insights from the project can raise public awareness and provide a knowledge base for policymakers regarding the consequences of new information technologies in relation to political decisions.

The project is an interdisciplinary research effort bringing together epistemology, evolutionary thinking, psychology, social science and mathematics.



One objective is, through mathematical models, to make predictions about possible consequences of AI for society, with a focus on spread of knowledge, polarisation and trust. Another is, through these models, to develop formal theory for cultural evolution adapted to the digital socities of today and tomorrow, including electronic agents.



Scientific papers.